Summer Daze

It’s almost senior year. Where did the time go?

Spring college fairs present a blur of colorful college displays. School counselors offer advice and parent night programs. SAT and ACT dates loom in front of reluctant students. Prom night takes center stage. And the run to summer vacation is in full swing.

While students dream of days at the beach or traveling to visit friends and family, their parents might be thinking of something more geared toward learning – or perhaps something more impressive for a resume. What makes a great summer experience? What has the most value when the college admissions committee reads an application?

While students deserve a holiday just like adults, there is research that suggests that students retain more and are better prepared for the next school year if their minds are active during some portion of the summer. Finding the right summer activity depends on the student’s interests, family values and what the family can afford. Let’s explore some options.

Many parents are drawn to academic and leadership programs at highly selective universities. Often these programs are not really a part of the university’s academic program; in fact, many are run by outside groups that are simply renting university facilities. Look carefully at the sponsors and the outcomes they promise. Ask for specific descriptions of the curriculum and activities. A course offered on a university campus is not necessarily a course offered for university credit. Some are actually high school courses and will not result in a university transcript. That is not to say that high school courses are not valuable; it does depend upon the needs of the student and his or her level of achievement. Many programs at every level offer visits to colleges, experience living away from home and opportunities to meet students from all over the world. Such experiences are valuable beyond college credits.

Summer SAT or ACT preparation is another popular option. If a student feels that he or she would be more confident after taking a test prep course, summer might be the right time to do it. Prep courses are given during the school year in the evenings, but some students find that summer allows them to concentrate more fully, not having to worry about homework or school activities at the same time. Almost every community will have test prep courses offered by well-known companies or by private tutors. Ask for recommendations from satisfied customers before choosing one.

Athletes have many choices for sports camps. High school coaches know which camps are among the best known and can help families find an assortment to consider. The serious player can get a leg up for the coming school year and maybe catch the eye of a college or university scout at the same time. As with academic programs, take a close look at program structure, outcomes and non-sport activities. Most sports camps are very demanding and not for the casual athlete. This is about playing with other excellent players and becoming more skilled in a short period of time. Students who are hoping for sports scholarships will certainly get a better sense of their competitiveness and their chances to snag one of the coveted awards at a Division I or II college or university.

Where does all of this leave the student who needs to or wants to work during the summer? Many families value work experience for the opportunity to learn practical skills; and many students have a financial need to work. Either way, summer work remains a useful and impressive addition to a student’s college application. Internships and other unpaid experiences are often great opportunities to test a career choice before committing to it. If earning money is necessary, all jobs have value in one way or another. Even the most menial position requires meeting work expectations, managing time, getting along with other people and managing one’s paycheck. These are challenges that provide practical lessons for a successful work life in the future.

The most important goal for summer is mental and physical activity that provides some challenge, some fun and lots of growth. Choose carefully after investigating options, reading program descriptions, talking to other families and assessing financial needs. Seek professional guidance if you need it, and always involve the student in the discussion and decision-making.

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